The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9 was one of the more unusual aircraft to be designed during the First World War. In mid-1915 the Germans introduced the Fokker E.I, the world's first fighter aircraft, armed with a single synchronised forward firing machine gun. The Allies rushed to catch up, but they didn't have any reliable synchronisation gear until 1916. The immediate solution was to produce pusher fighters such as the Airco D.H.2, but these aircraft lacked the performance of the tractor biplanes.
The B.E.9 was an attempt to combine the forward field of fire of the pusher with the performance of the tractor. It was essentially a modified B.E.2c, with the observer sitting in a new plywood nacelle that was mounted in front of the propeller. The nacelle was attached to the main aircraft via a ball-race, and was supported by a series of braces that connected it to the undercarriage and by wires running to the wings. The engine was moved back into the original observer's position and a bigger fin was added to restore balance.
The prototype made its first flight on 14 August 1915. Technically it was a successful design. The B.E.9 retained the stability of the B.E.2c, the extra weight didn't reduce its speed too far, and the only change that was recommended was the installation of dual controls.
The aircraft did less well in service trials later in 1915. Sholto Douglas described the aircraft as 'sluggish by very stable' – the exact characteristics that made the B.E.2c so vulnerable. The observers, in their little cockpit in front of the propeller felt isolated and exposed. Early in 1916 the prototype returned to Farnborough, where it quickly disappeared. A plan to produce a more powerful version of the design – the B.E.9a, with a 140hp R.A.F.4a engine, was abandoned.
Engine: R.A.F.1a V-8
Wing span: 40ft 10.5in
Length: 29ft 0in
Height: 11ft 5in
Max Speed: 82mph at sea level
Climb rate: 4.5min to 1,000ft
Armament: One 0.303in machine gun